LPD investigators named in civil suit filed in U.S. District Court
Greg Burroughs has filed a lawsuit against the City of Laurel and members of the police department for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” and he is seeking compensation for his “loss of reputation” and “loss of enjoyment of life” as a result of their investigation into the shooting death of his girlfriend.
The civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi by Hattiesburg attorney Daniel M. Waide, claims that his client was the victim of “malicious prosecution, defamation, slander and false imprisonment” by the Laurel Police Department.
Investigator Michael Reaves (spelled “Reeves” throughout the 21-page document), Officer Josh Welch and “John Does 1-5” are listed as defendants, along with the City of Laurel, in the lawsuit that was served to Mayor Johnny Magee on Tuesday morning.
The complaint stems from “a reported self-inflicted gunshot” in the garage of Burroughs’ home in the gated community Windermere on the night of June 1, 2017. Burroughs called 911 to report that she had shot herself, then he went to the end of the driveway to help officers find the residence, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit did not mention that Burroughs made two calls before dialing 911, which came out in the criminal trial. In September, a Franklin County jury found Burroughs not guilty of manslaughter in Sinclair’s death. A wrongful death suit filed by her family is still pending and will likely be heard next year by a jury outside of Jones County.
Burroughs’ lawsuit against the city and LPD claims that he was “completely cooperative” when officers questioned him at the scene. The car that Sinclair was in at the time of the shooting was towed away “for further processing,” and Burroughs’ family and neighbors were told they could clean the garage. “No person was allowed to clean or alter the vehicle before the vehicle was towed by law enforcement, despite apparent reports from the Defendants otherwise,” according to the complaint.
Burroughs was then told that he was being taken to the police station to give a statement and that he “would be back home shortly,” the lawsuit states. He consented to undergoing a polygraph examination by Welch.
Burroughs was told he failed the polygraph, but the test results were flawed, his attorney claims, because it was administered within 48 hours of a traumatic event, following an interrogation by an officer who “only had a temporary license” using a machine that was outdated.
The complaint also noted that Welch shouldn’t have administered the test because he and Burroughs have “a history.” Almost a year before Sinclair’s shooting, Welch arrested Burroughs after a disturbance and domestic situation with another former girlfriend in North Laurel. Burroughs was also charged with driving drunk with his young daughter in the car and resisting arrest, but Welch “failed to show up to court … and said charges were dismissed.”
During the investigation into the shooting, Burroughs was placed in a cell in “solitary confinement” while investigators requested warrants to search his home, even though he “would have consented to the search,” the complaint continues. The warrant included a request to search for “drugs, money and guns,” which played no role in the investigation. “These sloppily and hastily drafted warrants foreshadowed and exemplified the manner in which the entire investigation was undertaken by the Defendants.”
Burroughs was subjected to “multiple strip searches … despite the fact that he was in police custody in between each strip search” in the days he was incarcerated in the Jones County Adult Detention Center.
He was released “after being confined for more than 86 hours without being charged with a crime” and found the shirt he had been wearing on the night of the shooting. Officers failed to find the shirt, which is visible in the closet in a photograph taken by investigators, but Burroughs gave it to investigators, according to the complaint.
The investigators “did not want to hear or receive evidence which supported Mr. Burroughs’ innocence,” according to the complaint.
He was later charged with murder “despite the facts of the case being wholly consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound” and the police’s probable cause was “the result of a reckless investigation and intentional/reckless alteration of factual findings,” the complaint continued.
“Members of the grand jury did not originally believe that the Laurel police department could substantiate a charge of murder or manslaughter against Mr. Burroughs,” Waide wrote. “The grand jury’s doubts are the likely reason that the Defendants began to disseminate false/misleading information to media outlets.” He also contended that “false and/or grossly misleading information” was presented to the grand jury to secure Burroughs’ indictment for manslaughter.
As a result of “misinformation disseminated by the Defendants through the press and other media, (Burroughs’) reputation in the community has been harmed to such an extent that (he) may be forced to move out of Jones County,” according to the lawsuit. It also claimed that the actions of the police “harmed the reputation and memory” of Sinclair because Burroughs was “forced” to provide “private and intimate details” to defend himself.
The lawsuit claims that Reaves did not consider evidence that might exonerate Burroughs, failing to note “blowback and tissue on the firearm” that were “consistent with suicide” and for failing to fingerprint the firearm properly and failing to maintain possession of the holster Sinclair had the handgun in.
It also claims that Welch knew his polygraph exam was “not legitimate” and he allowed the “allegedly failed polygraph examination to be leaked and disseminated by media outlets in an apparent attempt to tarnish and destroy (Burroughs’) reputation while intentionally tainting any potential Jones County jury pool.”
The lawsuit blames the City of Laurel and Chief (Tyrone) Stewart, as supervisors of defendants Reaves and Welch, for failing to train their subordinates properly. Stewart died in January.
“No name clearing hearing will adequately restore the substantial damage done to (Burroughs’) name and reputation,” the complaint continued. He was found not guilty at trial, “but damages caused by the Defendants’ actions are irreversible.”
The complaint concludes by asking that Burroughs be awarded “nominal and actual damages” as well as “compensatory damages … for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses, emotional distress, suffering, loss of reputation, humiliation, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-pecuniary losses.”
It also asks for punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
The city has 21 days to answer the complaint.
A lawsuit represents only one side of a legal argument.